LISTEN: Instagram, cyberbullying, and free speech at a Queens school


This episode is part of a collaboration between Chalkbeat and The Bell, an audio journalism program for New York City students. It also aired on The Bell’s Miseducation podcast on Oct. 17.

The threat came in an e-mailed letter from the principal to the entire student body: Stop following the anonymous Instagram accounts, or face suspension.

When Principal David Marmor of Francis Lewis High School in Queens discovered two accounts — one which posted fight videos and the other which included vulgar content that in some cases targeted specific students — he didn’t hesitate to act.

In addition to threatening suspension, he promised to cancel all “celebratory events” such as pep rallies until the accounts were deleted or lost all their followers — a dramatic step that raised questions about the line between students’ free speech online and punishable behavior. 

First reported by Chalkbeat, the case immediately caught the attention of students in the Bell’s New York City high school audio journalism program. Social media’s impact on the lives as teens can’t be overstated. Anonymous Instagram pages that share confessions, photos, and videos about school communities have become increasingly common. Sometimes the content is harmless. Other times, it feeds into vicious bullying. 

A teenage girl wearing all black sits in front of a radio mic. A teenage boy in a black-and-white striped polo shirt sits in front of a radio mic.

The Bell’s Shoaa Khan (left) and Jose Santana (right).

The Bell’s Shoaa Khan and Jose Santana called up Chalkbeat’s Alex Zimmerman to break down what happened at Francis Lewis and discuss the broader implications of Marmor’s actions. Should schools be allowed to regulate students’ social media use? If so, did this principal go too far? 

This episode was hosted by Shoaa Khan, a high school senior from Manhattan, and Jose Santana, a high school senior from the Bronx.


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